The Best of Both Worlds: “We want to play fast, but manage pucks”

“We really want to play fast.” 

“Wow, that team really plays fast, they are going to be tough to play against.” 

Everyone knows the game has changed and its more skilled and faster, but is “playing fast” the be all end all when it comes to winning hockey games in this day and age. Do you really think that young up and coming players know, understand and fully grasp what “playing fast” actually means?

“Playing fast,” does it mean turn pucks over, does it mean that a 20 or 30 ft indirect pass should be option one, instead of “tape to tape” pass coming out of your own zone, does it mean that we stretch the opponent out and “cherry pick” all night and not take care of your zone?

Every team wants to play fast, but at what cost? Every player and coach have their own opinion on what “playing fast” actually means, but is supporting the puck a lost art? You hear “playing fast” nowadays as much as you hear “puck skills.”

Every player these days are more skilled, but do they really know how to support the puck carrier in all three zones? In an effort to “play fast” have some in the hockey world forgotten the art of puck support and puck possession?

“We need to “play fast” and  really manage pucks better?

So, everyone wants to play fast and manage pucks at the same time, that seems like a daunting task doesn’t it? Realistically, if there’s no puck support, or your puck management your game suffers and you’re just chasing it all over the ice. Obviously, you might be “playing fast” whatever that means to the team, player or coach, but you’re still chasing it. If you don’t know how to support and manage the puck in this day and age you won’t win very many games, but everyone still is committed to “playing fast.”

When NHL teams are playing their best hockey, they usually attack in waves or units of five. They are engaged and have multiple layers to their game. Their transition game is usually immaculate because they are obviously pros, but it’s all about coming back to the puck and providing multiple options of puck support in all three zones to enhance transition and speed.

Stretching opponents out in the NHL or at any level is optimum, but you better have a strong group of forwards willing to hunt down pucks on the forecheck, if you want to put pucks in deep or behind your opponent’s d-corps. If you don’t apply substantial pressure, you will get burnt in transition and end up chasing the puck even more and end up chasing the game as well. Oh does “playing fast” mean a solid dump and chase or forecheck game? Well, it might, again that’s in the eye of the beholder.

It’s really unfortunate that young players want to play fast and their team’s ultimate goal, but in all seriousness, they just end up turning pucks over or going indirect all game with no solid transition or puck possession.

A lot of U-18 and QMJHL players hit the panic button and don’t allow plays to materialize or actually use their puck skills at the right times perhaps in effort to conform or comply to the game plan to “play fast” that they end up turning pucks over non-stop. Play away from the puck, doesn’t always mean the defensive side of things. Young players at really every level don’t take back ice, time skate, or bust into seams to receive passes in effort to generate quick transition. At times they skate away or stay in their lanes too frequently creating a massive gap between the puck carrier. Sure, they skating like hell in hopes of generating speed, but they accomplish nothing, because they have no hope of receiving the puck at the times or places.

Everyone talks about transitional D, but so many skate into trouble and turn pucks over because they don’t have any options because forwards don’t necessarily know how to support the puck. We see tons of players lug the puck with tons of speed, but we don’t see small quick passing plays or give and goes because they just don’t have the support. From a scouting perspective, players that understand the importance puck support and using their puck skills in the right situations truly jump off the page. Those players are always engaged, go to the dirty areas, create time and space for themselves and their linemates and are truly all around the puck what seems like the entire game.

Where do you go and what do you do when you have the puck and where do you go and what do you do when you don’t have the puck?

That’s a great question to ask every player in this era of the game. Obviously, you would get a lot of different answers to that one.

What do practices look like with teams and players that want to “play fast”?

How do teams practice “playing fast”?

How do teams incorporate “playing fast,” a solid “puck possession” game and “puck management” game in their practices?

Good Luck “Playing Fast”

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